Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/January 2012/Book reviews

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Fire in the Sky - Michael Molkentin

An AFC DH.5 scout plane and members of No. 2 Squadron in 1917

5/5 stars

By Nick-D

Fire in the Sky is a history of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), which was the air arm of the Australian Army during World War I. It was written by the young historian Michael Molkentin and is his first book. The book covers the AFC's organisation and operations and provides a social history of the airmen and ground crew.

This is an outstanding book. Molkentin has conducted in-depth research and has expertly structured his narrative. Fire in the Sky covers almost all aspects of the AFC as an organisation, and provides good coverage of how and why it was established, its structure, its equipment and its combat operations. Molkentin has also drawn heavily on the personal records of AFC personnel, and does an excellent job of describing their experiences and attitudes. The book concludes with convincing analysis of the legacy of the AFC on the Royal Australian Air Force and Australia's civil aviation industry, and includes useful bibliographic essay on the (surprisingly limited) literature on the AFC.

The book's coverage of the AFC's combat actions is particularly strong. Molkentin provides a detailed account of No. 1 Squadron's operations in Sinai and Palestine and the remainder of the AFC's actions on the Western Front. While much of this is a blow-by-blow description of the major operations undertaken by these units, the book also describes and critically assesses the underlying strategies. While the narrative does get bogged down in highly detailed accounts of individual dogfights at times, Molkentin generally focuses on the big picture, and convincingly demonstrates that the main role of the AFC was supporting Australian and other British Empire army units.

All up, this is hugely detailed, yet very readable, account of the AFC's role in World War I and its influence on Australian civil and military aviation.

Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower

Europe at the height of the Axis military conquests in 1941-1942

4/5 stars

By Nick-D

Hitler's Empire by the academic historian Mark Mazower is a history of how Nazi Germany administered the empire it conquered between 1938 and 1945 and the responses of the conquered populations. These are huge topics to cover in just 600 pages, but Mazower largely pulls it off.

The best feature of Hitler's Empire is the huge range of topics it covers. Mazower draws on a vast range of references to discuss all the main features of the German occupation of Europe, and how they evolved over time. While this feels rushed at times (for instance, I would have liked more on the government-to-government relations between Germany and its allies), generally the depth of coverage is sufficient to provide a good understanding of the topic. Mazower's assessments of events are also thoughtful, clearly written and based on recent scholarship.

While the book does not have a focus on the military aspects of the German empire, it includes good coverage of resistance movements and a clear discussion of Germany's war aims. By emphasising the Germans' radical, deeply racist and unrealistic goals, Mazower provides an important corrective to the often-raised 'what if' scenarios based around the benefits Germany may have gained from adopting a more conciliatory policy towards the populations it conquered - given Hitler's motivations for going to war and underlying ideology, there was no prospect of him or the rest of the Nazi hierarchy adopting sensible occupation policies as these would have conflicted with the brutal empire the Nazis hoped to create. The book also provides a good synthesis of the literature on the brutality of the German Army during World War II, and convincingly argues that its occupation and anti-partisan policies were generally incompetent and counter-productive.

Hitler's Empire does have some flaws. Its description of the German economy is a bit simplistic at times, and appears to have suffered from being published at about the same time as Adam Tooze's book The Wages of Destruction, which provides the definitive account of this topic. I found the descriptions of the Nazis' definitions of 'German-ness' to be over-long, and the chapter on the Nazi conception of Europe (which is oddly placed after the chapter on the downfall and conquest of Germany) to be tedious and unconvincing. The book's final chapter on the legacies of the German empire on Europe and the Middle East is also somewhat under-developed.

All up, however, this is an excellent book and an important contribution to the literature on Nazi Germany and World War II.

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  • Nick, you beat me to it! I haven't read the entire book by any means but already used it for research to help get Oswald Watt to FA -- good stuff. Have to think more seriously about that long-delayed article on the AFC now...! Cheers, Ian Rose (talk) 22:01, 15 January 2012 (UTC)
  • That early Australian military flying book is one I know I will enjoy reading when I locate a copy. Thanks for the heads up! Binksternet (talk) 00:01, 23 January 2012 (UTC)
    • I'm not sure if it's available outside Australia, but the book's publisher seems to be selling it as an e-book. Nick-D (talk) 11:05, 23 January 2012 (UTC)

Is there a list or link to previous book reviews? I can see it being a good tool for someone wanting more information a subject. Jim Sweeney (talk) 15:58, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

  • That's not a bad idea, actually. In the short term, we can create a list of book reviews in the newsroom, similar to how we have a list of op-eds; in the long term, we may be able to integrate this into the academy or something along those lines. Kirill [talk] [prof] 14:08, 30 January 2012 (UTC)